Acton Institute Powerblog

The Reformational Calling of the Artist

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Cranach, autoritrattoDaniel Siedell, Director of Cultural and Theological Practice at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has a fine review of Steven Ozment’s The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation in the latest issue of Books & Culture.

As Siedell observes, “Ozment liberates Cranach from the confines of art history by offering a broader cultural framework within which to evaluate Cranach’s historical significance.”

One of the merits of Ozment’s study is that he thus situates Cranach in the context of his position in the royal court of Frederick the Wise:

His duties included decorating the Elector’s castles, designing and painting festival tents and uniforms, documenting hunting trips and his extensive relic collection, as well as making cake molds for birthday parties. This kind of workshop production has struck art historians as unbecoming of a fine artist.

Indeed, there is much in the modern approach to art that disdains such worldly and workaday considerations. As Siedell writes, noting a piece on the entrepreneurial aspects of early modern art, “most artists, especially those working at the highest echelons of culture, are obsessed with getting paid, in part, because at those levels, payment is much more sporadic and asking for it much less becoming.”

Indeed, “Art does not exist without some kind of market. The task of any artist is to find—or create—it, yet art historians have been slow to accept the market as a defining feature of artistic practice.”

As for the theological and religious aspects of his life and work,

Ozment’s Cranach embodies a proto-Lutheran approach to culture and vocation. Apparently unconcerned with the burden of demonstrating or achieving his salvation through his work, Cranach was freed to use and enjoy his God-given talents as a painter, politician, businessman, and advisor. He is also a historical example of what James Davison Hunter has called, in To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), “faithful presence.” The Serpent and the Lamb makes the convincing case that without Cranach’s faithful presence, the Lutheran Reformation would not have possessed the scope that it had.

For more on Ozment’s book on Cranach as well as more generally on the Lutheran doctrine of vocation and its relevance for today, check out the eponymous blog of Gene Edward Veith.

And for more on art, culture, and the Christian calling, check out Abraham Kuyper’s newly-translated work on common grace in science and art, Wisdom & Wonder (also reviewed in the latest issue of Books & Culture).

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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